The failure of the Parliament last week to agree on policy to save boat-people lives on the high seas was not its finest hour.

ACL is critical of both sides of politics for playing politics with this issue.

First the Rudd Government dismantled key aspects of the former Howard Government’s so-called Pacific solution.

As the Gillard Government scrambled to repair the damage, particularly in the wake of the Christmas Island tragedy in late 2010, the Abbott-led Opposition played hard-ball on the so-called Malaysia solution.

Sure, Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, but neither was Nauru during the Howard years. Malaysia has promised to treat refugees humanely just as Nauru did.

For an in-depth look at the problems with the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, purchase a copy of the latest edition of ACL’s public policy journal Viewpoint.

Even a compromise by the Government at the end of last year which involved re-opening the Opposition’s favoured Nauru off-shore processing centre was rejected.

Since 2010 some 300 people have died or vanished (presumed dead) in the short stretch of water between Indonesia and Christmas Island. This is a humanitarian catastrophe and one can’t help but think it could have been largely avoided with political will.

For a party which makes much of protecting whales on the high seas, the Greens are determined on-shore processing of boat arrivals remains non-negotiable despite this policy being a key driver of the lethal people smuggling trade.

So despite a compromise bill passing the House of Representatives last week with the support of the independents, it failed in the Senate because of the Greens.

While parties have their place in the political system, too often partisan politics gets in the way of what is needed in public policy – principled leadership.

This goes to the heart of Australians’ unease and often anger at our political class.